The online vs offline gaming argument is likely to run and run and has spawned some amusing YouTube videos as well as impassioned opinions on both sides. It's clear that many remain loyal to offline platform gaming, citing the fact that you get what you pay for, you own the product, and there's less risk of being suckered by unscrupulous operators when you’re playing in the self-contained world of a single offline program.
The future is online
Yet the fact remains that online gaming is on the rise. Across all kinds of games, the younger generation is increasingly looking online for thrills and excitement, not to mention convenience, accessibility and affordability, with the internet offering a wealth of online games that can be played for free. The big players in the offline platform market are fighting back, and there's no denying that there are some great offline games out there. But they are on the wrong side of history. Current trends point towards the future of gaming as being very much online.
One major advantage that online gaming has over offline play is the ability to carry a game over from one platform to the next. Today's players access the internet from multiple devices, including desktop PC, smartphone and tablet, and expect to be able to work, play and browse seamlessly from one to the other, picking up where they left off. This includes being able to pause a game on your laptop when you leave the house, only to pick it up on your tablet on the train without a hitch. It includes being able to carry over your profile, including points scored and money won, credits and bonuses, from one platform to the next.
This can also include the possibility to switch between online and offline play. Indeed, games with a multi-channel approach have been shown to be more popular than single-channel games, and most offline games now also have additional features online. Being tied to a single platform is a major disadvantage to offline gaming.
Choice and flexibility
The much sought-after Millennial and Generation Z demographics have grown up with high-quality gaming experiences, streaming on demand, and theoretically unlimited choice and flexibility when it comes to the entertainment they access. These younger players also often have more disposable income, which is another reason why they remain a target sector for games developers. What they want is to be able to play on the go, preferring games that test their skill rather than ones based on pure chance.
Casinos booming online
One sector of online gaming that is experiencing a steady growth in popularity is casino gaming. This is in noted contrast to the fortunes of land-based casinos, which have been closing down or experiencing lowered footfall across the globe. The US is the one nation to be bucking this trend, with a 4% growth in land-based casinos in 2016-2017, but this must be considered in light of the strict legal restrictions on online gaming across North America. Despite this, the online gaming sector is expected to be worth over $4bn by 2020 in the US alone.
Online casinos are attracting a younger and more diverse audience than their land-based equivalents, with convenience and safety being other factors drawing in a demographic that is less likely to enter a brick-and-mortar casino. One of the longest-standing providers, 888casino, offers a wide selection of variations on traditional table games, including online roulette, blackjack and baccarat, as well as online slots and live casino games. These often include features not available to their offline counterparts, and are complemented by online tutorials, blogs and forums. The thrill of being able to play against players from around the world at any time of the day and night, plus the chance to win real money, all adds up to an exciting experience tailor-made for the digital age.
The Battle Royale format was the big gaming sensation of 2017 and early 2018, first with the huge success of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and then the free-to-play Fortnite Battle Royale. Emerging out of the “Survival Games” mods for multiplayer online games Minecraft and Arma 2, the Battle Royale games are “last man standing” contents between huge numbers of online players in the same limited gaming environment, battling to obtain resources (including weapons) in order to kill their opponents and ultimately be the last player still alive.
There have been several variations on this theme, including ones where players act as part of a team rather than looking out for themselves, and players are often rewarded for how long they stay in the game rather than it being a strictly winner-takes-all contest. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds sold over 25 million copies in 2017, and many speculated that its success reflects the increasingly dog-eat-dog nature of modern society. Away from the think pieces, however, it's clear that the Battle Royale format is breathing new life into the still hugely popular arena of massively multiplayer online gaming, simplifying and simultaneously broadening its appeal.
The internet is a social format. Social media has had a massive impact on the gaming world, both as a platform for the more casual form of online gaming and as a forum for players and enthusiasts to meet, swap tips or just indulge in light-hearted game-related banter via in-jokes and memes. However, it's this social nature that is one of the main reasons for the rise in online gaming's popularity. Sure, you can still invite friends round to play offline, but it's so much easier to play with friends online and indeed with people you've never met before in real life.
For years, defenders of offline gaming could point out that PC games were of better quality and had a higher level of graphics than those streamed online, but as technology improves, this is no longer the case. Some of the best and most exciting games can now be found online, with the added bonus of real-time competition. We're not saying that offline platform gaming is dead – but online gaming will increasingly have the edge.